When Meatspace isn’t Marketspace

Like Doc said, “It’s getting real interesting now.” This Digital ID meme polyblog has been like pulling a string out of a sweater. I’ve been gnawing on the problem of reputation and identity since Mitch Ratcliffe pointed out that I was talking about reputation and everyone else was talking about DigitalID. I’ve thrown away a few thousand words, (aren’t you glad?) and am just beginning to get at the core issue that’s been troubling me: Digital ID has nothing to do with Digital Reputation, and we don’t want it to.

Andre Durand won’t agree with that, but I think it’s implicit in his work. Everyone’s quoting Andre’s 3 tiers of identity white paper, which led Doc to come up with his Mydentity, Ourdentity, Theirdentity model. Then I read Andre’s Anatomy of a Reputation and I finally got it (well, felt I got it enough to quit agonizing over my cluelessness). Andre has thought about this longer, harder and better than the rest of us, and has framed the conversation beautifully. Despite that contribution, I think Andre wants to tie reputation too closely with ID, perhaps because his PingID start-up wants to manage both of them for businesses and us, but more probably because we’re all doing it.

Let’s be clear: the only reason we’re jamming on this Digital ID stuff is that we’re working out how it affects us on the internet and, more personally, how we can cooperate to build personas that live on the net which have higher value than than the ones we can develop in our zip code. When I need a financial analysis, I need analysis, not an analyst. I don’t care what the creator of my solution does in his spare time with whom of which gender or species, under what influences. I just want someone who’s the Commander Data relative to my solution, not Jean-Luc Picard, idealized in every regard.

Isn’t that our grievance with managerial capitalism? Aren’t employees tired of having to act, look, vote, nod and grovel in particular ways, when the real assignment is to keep the network up? Every 10,000-job business would be better off with 30,000 ad hoc experts than with their experts at job-holding. The takeaway from that viewpoint is that a specialized task—real work—needs a reputation, an Ourdentity. The real-person carbon-based Mydentity may be necessary to hold down a job in finance, but not for buying financial analyses over the internet (is it consulting? an Excel template? a macro? do you care?).

As Doc points out tonight, “It isn’t who you are, it’s how you blog. . .’After all, who cares who you are?'”

Or, as my old buddy Jerry Vass tells his Fortune clients, “The buyer doesn’t care if the salesman lives or dies, as long as he doesn’t die on the premises.”

For those of us not in the business of selling Digital ID services to businesses:

Forget about linking Digital ID to Digital Reputation. There’s no there there.

Andre tells us in Reputation, “Reputations only really exist within the context of your interactions with others, and therefore, a reputation can be viewed as existing in the space between you and others.”

Like your shadow, your reputation is attached to you but doesn’t belong to you. When you want something real done, what you want is work performed under a terrific reputation that doesn’t get ruined during your assignment. The personality behind the reputation, unfortunately, is no more relevant to your task than the shadows in Plato’s Cave are related to reality. In the coming world of work-not-jobs, tasks will be parsed to expertise, rather than referred to the IT people for further study.

First Principles

To get my head around the possibility of a DigID-DigRep disconnect, I had to go back to our core dialogue, as inspired by the Great Hintchoochoo. The market is a conversation, the internet enables a human voice, peer-to-peer trumps B2C, organizations are dehumanizing, etc., etc. You know–all the truths we should review every morning instead of the market report.

But the Cluetrain truths led me into a confusion. In my longing for human voices in the marketplace, I’d somehow got the idea that my transactions could be truly like my conception of the old personalized Agora, but it can’t be designed that way. Unless you’re an ATM, meatspace has nothing to do with the marketplace. That’s not my or Xpertweb’s problem, so I don’t have anything to add to the Mydentity discussion.

Since Xpertweb is all about reputation, we need to understand how best to value each other. Here are Andre’s talking points from Anatomy of a Reputation, and how Xpertweb is hoping to develop Ourdentities based on those points:

Attributes of a Reputation

What You Say . . .Of all the ways to create a reputation, telling people what they should think of you is both the weakest and carries the least amount of weight in the real world. That said, what you say about yourself can serve to amplify a positive opinion of you if it is consistent with your actions (in their experience). Likewise, what you say about yourself can negatively impact one’s image of you if it is inconsistent with their experiences with you.

What You Do “Actions speak louder than words” embodies this attribute of an identity. Nothing serves to more quickly establish a reputation than one’s actions.

Which means: Aggregate your reputation by capturing every customer’s candid rating of the task you performed. Make that a quantitative and qualitative rating, collected before the tears of happiness are dry, so it’s got to be part of the invoice. Use only your customers’ words and numbers when putting your service or product before the public. If they like what your customers have said, they may look further, so your home page looks like this:

  • “My 183 jobs have an average 88.6% rating. Click here for every task grade and comment.”
  • Mission/Nutshell Statement: 43 words or so
  • A longer How I Work for You statement
  • Your even longer Exemplary Projects listing
  • Your reflective Things I Care About statement, which feels like a web log
  • Maybe a resume, but by this point, who cares?

What’s Pub
Certain elements of our reputation are public, that is, generally known by us (the owner of the reputation) and by others who know us. . .Generally speaking, we work to reinforce positive elements of our reputation and diminish negative ones. If I knew that I’d been branded a ‘tight-wad’ when it comes to paying my bar tab, I might over-pay in the future to counteract a negative impression of my reputation as being generous.

Which means: Publish every promise and every outcome. Xpertweb transaction tracking is optional, but when used, the metrics of the task are known to every successive customer or seller. As Andre suggests here, being observed improves one’s performance. It’s both common sense and a management theory known as the Hawthorne Effect since the early 1930’s. What better way to develop conscientiousness and competence than to give people a bully pulpit from which to strut their stuff?

What’s Private Certain facets of my reputation are private, and will never be known to me or others. Individuals who choose to create a new identity are doing nothing more than running from their reputation.

Which means: We can’t be certain of someone without a reputation. Once we have a metric for quality, published universally, it may become more risky to deal with someone without a documented reputation. But the flip side is compelling as well.

Xpertweb, like shareware, has a way to make it easy to build a reputation whether starting out or starting over. Deliver your benefit first and calibrate the price to the buyer’s rating. The prospective buyer knows it’s a riskless purchase (not just money-back-after-a-hassle but grade-based pricing), and has no reason to hesitate to let the seller show what she can do. If a failed Xpertweb user tries a new persona with a new mentor (perhaps offering more modest services), it might take just six months to establish a new reputation, just like the first time. Maybe this time will work.

This is the societal payoff from a system that recycles failure into new reputation opportunities. Our collective goal is not to banish failed first attempts to an occupational debtor’s prison, but to help anyone find a new skill or a better approach to a flawed skill.

What Context Lastly, while in real life and in every day conversation we do in fact attempt to summarize an individual’s reputation (e.g. “…she’s an amazing person.”), the fact is, our reputation is contextual and it is quite possible for me to have a positive reputation in one area of my life with individual A and a negative reputation in another area of my life with individual B.

Which means: When you understand the context of an expert, you can understand the expertise. One benefit is to recycle failure into success. Another is the opportunity to know where an expert comes from, by training and mentoring.

Every Xpertweb user has at least one unique ID. If Jim Franklin’s ID is ADCGEFH, then you know that Mary Billing, whose ID is ADCGEFHC has been mentored directly by Franklin–specifically, his 3rd protegé. Every ID reveals who mentored whom, published ratings let you know how good Mary is, as well as all others mentored by Franklin and his mentor as well.

The Digital Reputation
While historically reputations have been somewhat vague and subjective, in the digital world they are likely to become more objective, binary and long-lasting (all the reason to take them seriously). Biologically, time is a built-in eraser, allowing us to forget and move on. In the digital world however, where memory is cheap and caching the norm, our reputations are likely to become more persistent . . . Probably more important, in the digital world, our various reputations which are today disconnected are likely to become more connected, if not by us, then by others.

Which means: We get the best of both worlds. We’ll be able to deal with proven experts without risk, yet not force them to be more than the skilled specialists they are, allowing them to be fully human (i.e., flawed) rather than the perfect employee. Instead of working for their boss, they’ll be working for a customer. And not a consumer in sight.

Might reputation systems spark the productivity renaissance we expected from computers? People holding down a job are lucky to be on task a third of the time. Experts focusing their talents are likely to be productive half the time. That’s a 50% productivity jump for everyone attracted into a reputation-enabled craft.

11:51:59 PM    

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